How can I motivate a lazy horse to go!

Hi Stacy, I have a 3 yr old mare – somewhat lazy. She will walk, jog, and trot cooperatively on a line or under saddle. When asked to canter she will canter but then she becomes aggravated and kicks out and swings her head. She is not doing it in a playfully. She pins her ears and is very indignant about cantering. I have checked the saddle, and pad for irritations, nothing there. I am getting to have the vet check her hocks for soreness. I work very hard to stay out of her mouth. Open to suggestions Thank you. Melanie H.

What you are describing is a frequent issue with lazy horses. You are doing the right thing by checking out any physical problems. After ruling out physical problems she may fall in the category of a lazy horse. Most horses, like people, are lazy to some extent (some more than others). These horses need more motivation to go to work than others. If the lazy horse was a person they would be the one that was a couch potato and a less than ideal worker. Think about the following scenario:
Employee #1 goes to work early everyday. After arriving early he/she waits in the car for the doors to be unlocked. If this employee is late people wonder if they have been in an accident.
Employee #2 goes to work everyday although they are generally the last one in the door. At least once a week they are late but they are good workers when they are there.
Employee #3 goes to work dragging his/her feet and complaining about the start time. This employee has been reprimanded multiple times about tardiness but it seems to have little or no effect. Actually he/she is getting there later each day and it is effecting the overall atmosphere at work.
Figure out what type of “employee” your horse is. I believe that there are employees out there that if they continued to receive a paycheck would gradually get to work later and later, eventually not showing up at all-as long as they continued to receive a pay check.
You can’t take away your horses food or water (a form of paycheck) that they receive but you can take steps that an employer might take in setting consequences for inaction.
One of the first things I do with a horse like this is canter work from the ground. With the horse in the round pen or on a lunge line I use a verbal cue-a kiss-to ask the horse to canter (or lope). If the horse responds from the verbal cue alone I stand and watch as they go around. If they do not respond I reach out with the end of my stick and string and whip them on the rear end very firm. I want them to connect that shortly after (within two to three seconds) of hearing me ‘kiss’ they are going to be swatted on the butt.
I will do what it takes to get them to move knowing that ALL horses can outrun me from the ground. Very resistant horses will tend to kick out so be sure you are at a safe distance. If they kick and don’t go forward-keep using the stick and string until they go (a lope or canter). All of my horses must lope immediately from a verbal ‘kiss’ only before I will mount up for even the first ride. The horse I used for the “Starting Young Horses” DVD was very tough to get to move and you can see how I worked through it. He chose to kick out instead of running away. Very tough to get to move. Let me know if you try it,



  1. Phione on January 4, 2014 at 5:37 pm

    stacy my horse is a friesianXvlaam..he is 12years and before I got him he was at the spca…..they found him pulling a cart up a hill overloaded and he had laminities in his two front hooves..there were also marks were he has been hit with the whip or whatever they used..he had wire for a bit….the treated the laminities and his well again…everytime he sees a whip he turn his butt to you and try kicking at the whip..i want to lunge him but I can’t as I said he pulls back his ears and tries biting or kicking..when his ridden with a saddle and bridle he sometimes starts bucking and when you give him a slap in the neck he stops…I don’t know what to do and I’m scared that in the we’ll both get hurt..any suggestions what to do??I want to do show but if his like that I’m not so sure..I ride my ott thoroughbred with a whip.

  2. KATJA LANGHOLZ on July 12, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Horses with a weak stifle or injury to it, have a hard time picking up a canter, especially on the circle or in the arena, less so on the trail when they go on straight lines. Stifle weakness can be hard to see as the horse is not lame as such. It can be identified more easily leading the horse down a hill or slope. If this is the case, take time to build the horse up slowly and strengthen the surrounding muscles to support the stifle, the horse will need to be ridden regularly and in a good frame, to build the correct muscles. Young horses are especially susceptible to stifle issues. Horses with a weak stifle often feel very insecure about their hind end and are prone to kick out or buck when asked for a canter.

  3. Jean on February 12, 2012 at 12:30 am

    I have a young horse that was well trained. She does this also, but only during ground work, and only after not being worked with for a bit. It is laziness on her part. She is being resistant and disrespectful. I agree with Stacy. I have done what the trainer said to do and it works just fine. It doesn’t hurt the filly at all. It brings her into compliance and cooperation. She has a great foundation and it was totally western based. We basically do what Stacy said to do for this horse. If the horse checks out by a vet to be OK physically, then move on to what Stacy has said. The horse can be lazy later on it’s off time. Otherwise, when it’s time to work, then it’s time to work. If it was in the pasture and the lead horse said to move, it better move. When we are with our horses, we are supposed to be the lead horse. When we say move, they need to move. That doesn’t mean you have to beat them, but again, the lead horse doesn’t have to beat the others after it is established they are the lead horse. They do have to have some measures to make the others understand tho in the first place. Follow Stacy’s advice. You will be glad you did and happy with the results if done correctly.

  4. Cassidy Smith on January 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    hi Stacy my name is Cassidy I’m 11 years old and I have a horse named Bear and he was so sweet then he went mean. I can’t do much because i don’t live on a ranch so my horse leason teacher takes care of him. my mom can’t take me because shes scared of horses what can i do!!!

    Love Cassidy Smith

  5. Tammy Rosner on January 28, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    I have a horse that is like this. He was my daughters horse and was happily following me on trail rides until she started to ask little more of him. He started acting out (bucking then rearing when you pulled his head up during the buck) when asked to lope. It soon extended to acting out when separated from other horses.

    He is quite old and much older than I thought when I bought him 5 years ago. I have been working on the lunging (it has actually been years now that we haven’t ridden him) and he is very inconsistent. He will be good 9 times out of 10, but on that 10th time, he might catch you a bit off balance or be a little more on the lazy, but something happens that will make him think that it might be a better deal to try to kill you than do what you want.

    I have pretty much given up on him and reluctantly retired him. I sometimes worry about the safetfy of my daughter and others around him though. I still do try to do ground work with him from time to time. He isn’t stupid – he knows what you want from him. He does “respect” me and will back up and all that fancy groundwork jazz – but I cold never turn my back on him and do not trust him. He just seems to have developed a lack of regard for humans – dimetia perhaps? Vet, chiro and trainers say that he is sound.

    Maybe this is not the right place for this, except to say that this approach did not work for my horse. Maybe he is just extra lazy or too smart to train the lazyness out or just too old and not interested in complying any more.

    • Macy on June 13, 2014 at 11:41 am

      I no horse that is very beautiful and a huge pain in the butt she has no health problems or problems with irritation but little kids can get her to go into a trot and canter and most of us at the stables can’t get her to go I try everything to get her to go but she won’t

      • Macy on June 27, 2014 at 3:15 pm

        Please help me with this horse she’s a sweetie pie I just can’t get her to go

  6. Calico on January 25, 2012 at 11:47 pm

    I am concerned that this horse is in hard work at only age 3. That is awfully young, mentally and/or physically, to be expected to do the same level of hard work a mature horse does.

    It’s entirely possible she is not well balanced plus perhaps a rider that may or may not be balanced = a horse who struggled to maintain the canter. The pinned ears and kicking out say “frustration” not “lazy”. It takes work to kick out and resist a rider — not what a truly lazy horse would do.

    I agree with the idea of teaching this horse the canter first without a rider. It will clarify the cues, give her a chance to build fitness, and develop a balanced canter. A good trainer can help you teach her smooth gaits in the round-pen, getting them going correctly before she has to learn how to move properly with weight of the rider.

    I know how hard it is to give advice to a person based only on an internet post. If was this rider, I would seek out a good trainer who teaches a foundation of classical training, eg. classical dressage,. It might mean temporarily putting the competitive Western riding on a back burner. But I feel to teach a solid foundation will pay off not only in less submission in the show ring, it’ll also result in a horse who is sounder and happier longer.

  7. Jean Fine on January 25, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Hi from Maine! My daughter has a new horse who is very well trained in dressage and extremely sensible EXCEPT in one important area. This horse will almost always buck when transitioning to a canter on the ground and sometime she will buck when transitioning to canter when being ridden which has resulted in a few falls (my daughter wears a safety vest and helmet at all times). The horse is in excellent health and all equipment is appropriate. We have has this horse for several months and and do ground work several times a week with a professional trainer. My daughter always does ground work before getting on to ride. In other respects this is a very sweet mare.

  8. Cheryl Gould Mouyos on January 25, 2012 at 9:07 am

    My first thought is, why try to change a horse that isnt what you want it to be naturally? Some people like/want/need a ‘lazy’ horse. It seems to me that the horse and rider would be happier if the job they were expected to do was one that they were comfortable doing to begin with.
    Just my thoughts ..

  9. sparky on January 25, 2012 at 8:23 am

    If your sittin on a lazy horse. Thats fine wetvsaddle blankets make a horse. Its easier to power a horse up than put her brains back in her head. it just takes time and patients

  10. Angelique Aia Hill on January 24, 2012 at 11:09 am

    i think everybody’s heard ” youre horse are what you make of him” and when i read the text i quickly thought im like “employee” number 2, when i was finished i thought of my horse and, haha guess what, hes number 2! i love to read about peoples problems and that you answer them cause i might have the same problem some time.

Leave a Comment




100% Private - 0% Spam

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

No one taught you the skills you need to work through these things.

Riders often encounter self-doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, and other challenging emotions at the barn. The emotions coursing through your body can add clarity, or can make your cues indistinguishable for your horse.

Learning these skills and begin communicating clearly with your horse.

Click here to learn more.



Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.